In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” — that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns — since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.
As it turned out, within a year of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001), I found myself attending a family wedding in Delhi. I insisted on being present for the arrangements a few days ahead. And I was awfully disappointed to learn there was no single wedding planner – just a bunch of scatterbrained people barking orders to each other. I had expected a beautifully chaotic soundscape. I had expected to hear an elegantly foul-mouthed man accosting his loyal workers while simultaneously multitasking with the emasculating moods of his heart.
Such had been the power of Vijay Raaz as the joyously eccentric “boss” P.K. Dubey in Mira Nair’s timeless dysfunctional family drama.
As a kid in a wedding bursting with two-faced adults, I would have gladly hung out with him. It was the first time many of us had seen the actor – as well as the object of his coy affection, the reticent housemaid Alice (a wonderful Tillotama Shome) – and it wouldn’t be the last.
Parabatlal Kanhaiyalal Dubey (that’s right) was perhaps the film’s most important element. He represented not only the rare bridging of the class divide in a region notorious for dehumanizing these peripheral “lowly” figures, but also symbolized the only real outsider in an environment full of conflicted, hypocritical Punjabi insiders. That they achieved a level of honesty synonymous with his – and therefore celebrated his “small” wedding with their bigger one in the final scene – remains the film’s most enduring and remarkable achievement.
You’d have never thought of it in the earlier portions, as we were conditioned to imagine him as the “comic relief” in an atmosphere ripe with hypocrisy. He achieved an inclusivity that continues to make P.K. Dubey not just a memorable and superbly performed character, but an aspirational one. Especially in context of Hindi cinema’s blossoming love affair with loud, idiosyncratic North Indian weddings.
Moments after falling for Alice, Dubey – while systematically chomping on a marigold flower – has an internal conversation with himself about why he remains a bachelor despite arranging over 150 weddings. He is in his own world, convinced that he has found the “one” – only, this dialogue isn’t entirely private, given that he is dreamily painting his future in front of his amused employees. Within a split second, Dubey changes tone, gives them the mandatory maternally-inclined cuss word and yanks us back into the reality of the film’s titular marriage.